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The government is rolling out Brexit import checks in a ‘graduated’ manner to avoid major trade disruption

The government has avoided major disruption at the border following the rollout of new Brexit import checks – but businesses still remain in the dark over costs.

New checks on food goods coming from the EU began earlier this week, with delays largely avoided after Defra decided to take a “light touch” approach to physical inspections.

Only the highest-risk Imports of animal and plant products would be pulled for inspection at this early stage, the government confirmed on 30 April.

“Checks will initially focus on those commodities that present the greatest risk, and will build up to full inspection numbers over time,” Defra said.

However, businesses have complained about a lack of information around when and how those checks will be scaled up – and how much that will cost them.

“Our members have not reported any significant or persistent problems to us so far, but it is still early days,” said Nichola Mallon, Logistics UK head of policy. “Despite the new system going live, business critical information remains outstanding.

“Further detail is needed on what the government’s phased approach to checks actually means in practice in terms of the number of inspections that are being requested and carried out, where, and on what commodities. Our members also still need to know the exact timeline as to when physical checks will be scaled up.”

The industry also urged government to be clear about the new charging regime at the Dover border, which will see companies pay up to £145 per consignment regardless of whether their goods are selected for inspection at the border control post.

Many claim there is still no clarity around what a ‘consignment’ means under the new rules, as it could be interpreted as one lorry load or multiple loads from different suppliers in one single truck.

The British Meat Processors Association said that “with so little clear explanation of how the new import checks will be rolled out, it’s very difficult to gauge the impact on meat supplies – even after four years of preparation”.

“We suspect that larger importers will not be adversely affected, despite the extra bureaucracy, but that smaller importers, who rely on smaller consignments from a multitude of European suppliers, will face increasing costs, red tape and a reluctance on the part of their suppliers to jump through the hoops necessary to continue sending goods to the UK,” a spokesperson said.

The government has acknowledged that the extra bureaucracy will add £330m a year to the cost of importing goods and push food prices, with forecasts pointing to an increase in inflation by 0.2 percentage points over three years.

Businesses who are seeing their costs skyrocket due to the new controls argued against the government’s calculations.

”We think there’s going to be a billion pounds’ worth of extra cost put on to food coming through Dover port alone, if you expand that to the rest of the country you’re looking at all sorts of money, so it won’t be 0.2%, it will be substantially more than that and the consumer will see that increase,” said Cold Chain Federation chief executive Phil Pluck.

“Restaurants, delicatessens and fish & chip shops could well be affected by what’s currently happening today and the consumer, in the very near future, will start to see some of those food products going up in price.”

New ITV figures suggest the costs of border controls could add more than £8 a month to the average food shop in the UK.